They do things big in the Northern Territory, and Scott Morrison was impressed.

“I love getting up in these things,” he enthused as he climbed into two army vehicles being serviced at Darwin business RGM Maintenance.

“Gee, these are some big units you’ve got here.”

Later, addressing troops including a cohort of newly arrived US Marines in the mess of Robertson Barracks, he talked about the ties between America and Australia that he sees embodied in WWII stretcher bearer Leslie Bull Allen.

“Leslie Bull Allen was a big fellow, like some of the big units I was talking to here a bit before,” he started off his story.

But one big unit the prime minister isn’t keen on is the size of the debt hole the Territory’s Labor government has found itself in.

Politicians usually say voters are smart enough to differentiate between state and federal issues when they go to the ballot boxes.

But Mr Morrison is banking on disaffection with Michael Gunner to win over votes federally, saying the chief minister’s economic mismanagement is just a warm up act for federal Labor leader Bill Shorten.

“The Gunner government is the worst government in Australia,” he declared at a breakfast with local businesspeople, joking about the NT having taken advice on a return to surplus from former federal Labor treasurer Wayne Swan.

“I would urge all Territorians to send the Gunner government a message on 18 May.”

Local accountant Duncan Bell enthusiastically underlined the prime minister’s message, telling him: “Bill reckons that Michael’s doing a great job so I’d hate to see him doing a bad job.”

One small unit keen to meet the prime minister on his first campaign visit to the NT was Angus Copelin-Walters, 9, who is the self-styled “executive head of candy” of his two-year-old business Croc Candy.

Angus set up his company after seeing homeless people on television and wanting to do something to help them.

He donates his proceeds to charity and was thrilled to be able to give two of his crocodile eye lollipops to the prime minister, who promised to pass them on to his daughters Abbey and Lily.

Both the NT’s lower house seats are held by Labor, after Luke Gosling won the metropolitan electorate of Solomon from Natasha Griggs in 2016.

Lingiari Country Liberal candidate Jacinta Price, who is hoping to tear down Labor’s 8.2-point margin in the seat that covers all the NT outside of Darwin, said they had a huge fight ahead.

She almost channelled Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, saying: “The coalition government has what it takes to bring us to our former glory as Territorians.”

Mr Morrison used his time in Darwin, home to more than 5000 Defence personnel and their families, to unveil a $63 million package to support veterans adapt to civilian life.

He also said the coalition would offer a range of health measures specific to the NT worth $95.4 million.